In the summer of 1990, right after Pinochet had been ousted from office, a community of artists settle in the mountains above Santiago, building homes. Sixteen year-old Sofía (Demian Hernández) has sent Lucas (Antar Machado)adrift after the arrival of the older Ignacio (Matías Oviedo) while ten year-old Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) searches for her lost Bernese Mountain dog Frida. Lucas’s mom Elena (Antonia Zegers, “The Club”) has set the rules for the New Year’s Eve party everyone will attend in a week’s time and it will prove a week of momentous change marked by small moments in “Too Late to Die Young.”
Writer/director Dominga Sotomayor (“Mar”) won the Best Director award at the Locarno film festival for this, her third feature. It is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a multi-generational group of families and friends wending their ways through the intricacies of relationships while their big dreams are brought to earth by practical considerations. Sotomayor gives us a real feel for place and mood, her established and aspiring artists’ familial and romantic relationship landmines and remove from the urban classes reminiscent of Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard.’
The film begins and ends with the image of a Bernese Mountain dog running through clouds of dust, one that imparts both the melancholy of leaving things behind and the hope of bounding into the future. That dust will remain in the shadow of the Andes where parents plot a Utopia within a dry, scrubby landscape as their children cavort in a nearby stream. Everyone enjoys communal dining, smaller kids wandering off to play, teens gathering around a campfire. Lucas is clearly besotted with Sofia, but her attention wanders when the visiting Ignacio asks if she’d like to ride into town on his motorbike to pick up cigarettes.
As the week progresses, Sofia’s relationship with her dad Roberto (Andrés Aliaga) grows strained as her desire to live with her mother, a famous singer, intensifies along with her attraction to Ignacio. The dejected Lucas observes every little thing, including Ignacio’s casual treatment of the woman of his dreams. Young Clara comes to a most adult realization after her mother, Carmen (Mercedes Mujica), demands her dog back from a young girl in town. The holiday proves a showcase for everyone’s talents as well as laying bare some harsher realities.
Sotomayor’s coming of age tale is unique in that her focus is not only on the young, but the (less well defined) adults whose choices are every bit as questionable. They are a community in flux in a country in flux, romantic ideals living uneasily aside class conflict and dry tinder. The filmmaker pointedly uses her landscape, the community floating above the city, the young, especially Sofia, seeking the purification of water. Hernández is a marvelous find, a coltish stunner who projects confidence in public, contemplation in private.
Robin gives "Too Late to Die Young" a C+.
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